Say what you will about the popularity of "Soccer" in the United States but one thing certain it's catching on. In the past six years the number of professional teams in the United States has grown from 38 teams in 2011, to a robust 60 in 2017. There are plans to add even more franchises in coming years. Several cities have emerged in expansion talks, including San Diego and St.Louis whom have recently lost National Football League franchises due to relocation.
Cities like Tampa Bay, Florida and Cincinnati, Ohio are taking the path less traveled when it comes to expansion. Each city has a United Soccer League second division affiliate and both sides are hungry to enter Major League Soccer. Their fan bases are even more passionate. Starting campaigns like #MLS2Cincy and #MLS2StPete hashtags on social media. This hunger and passion for the clubs are exciting to see as soccer's popularity continues to grow.
Teams with established fanbases in Major League Soccer are eager for the league to begin play this week. Across the nation several teams held events welcoming fans and media as they prepared for the 2017 season. Columbus Crew SC held their event in downtown Columbus at a concert venue known as The Bluestone. It was open to season ticket holders and corporate partners. This event was absolutely electric. Columbus Crew fans packed into the venue and everyone I spoke to was filled with optimism for the upcoming campaign. There is one thing these fans know how to do well and that is party.
One of my favorite things I've noticed about supporter culture is that everyone takes it incredibly seriously, but they are super inclusive. People were quick to flash a smile or introduce themselves to me. I've interacted with these people countless times over Twitter and Facebook but to finally meet these people in real life was very special. Pride for one's city is also rampant in Major League Soccer. Columbus is a town that prides themselves on beating the likes of Los Angeles and Seattle because they frequently get overlooked.
The Columbus Crew are returning to their roots this year and it's prevalent on their new uniforms for 2017. Featured on the "jock tag" of the uniform this year are the words "Charter Member 01" reminding the league that they were the founding team in Major League Soccer. Crew fans are some of the most passionate and organic fans around. They also have an incredible bond with the team as the Crew decided to incorporate the supporters flag in their 2015 rebrand which saw the creation of a new badge. From the Nordecke to Timbers Army, fans across the country are counting down the minutes until their team kicks off the 2017. How will you be supporting?